US labour officials find Amazon illegally retaliated against two staff who led protests over company’s environmental and pandemic safety practices
Labour officials in the US have found that Amazon illegally retaliated against two prominent internal critics when it fired them last year.
The National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), an agency of the US federal government, found against Amazon in a complaint filed by former employees Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa.
The pair had campaigned publicly for Amazon to adopt more climate-friendly policies.
When the pandemic began they expanded their activities into other areas, such as highlighting safety issues for staff in Amazon warehouses. Cunningham and Costa were fired last April.
Amazon said the pair had been let go for “violating internal policies”.
The NLRB’s decisions are not self-executing, and it must apply for a court enforcement order to put them into action.
The agency said it would do so if Amazon did not settle the case.
“It’s a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law,” Cunningham told the New York Times, which first reported the decision.
Dozens of Amazon staff have filed complaints with the NLRB over illegal relatiations in the past year, with most relating to their complaints to the company about pandemic safety.
The claims may prompt the NLRB to launch a nationwide investigation of Amazon, the agency told NBC News. Complaints are usually handled via the board’s regional offices.
Amazon’s labour practices have come under scrutiny over the past year, as pandemic demand has seen it expand its workforce in the US to nearly one million people.
Unusually, lawmakers across the political spectrum have spoken in support of a union drive at a facility near Birmingham, Alabama, Amazon’s first since 2014.
In Europe, the company has been hit by strike actions.
Costa and Cunningham worked as designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, and began publicly criticising the company over its environmental practices in 2018.
They were part of a group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which signed up more than 8,700 staff.
Amazon fired them shortly after they announced an internal event for warehouse workers to speak to tech staff about their working conditions.
New York’s attorney general is also investigating whether the company illegally retaliated against warehouse workers in the state who organised protests during the pandemic.